“I actually think that 1984 came to pass. Orwell’s writing about a totalitarian state, and that part isn’t the case. But the notion that you might live in a society that rather rigorously limits your available behavior, and that watches you to make sure that you do, you know I think we are increasingly seeing, but what’s interesting is that it’s not big brother, we’re doing it to ourselves.” –Michael Crichton
If you occasionally have original ideas…
If you suspect that imagination is the largest part of what society calls, “intelligence,” then read on.
But, be careful.
If you voice your original ideas or imagination, you will be attacked and persecuted.
Imagination, courage, ambition, or new ideas that can improve the world, move things in a more voluntary direction, or allow us to do more with less…
These are not things that society welcomes.
Society watches each of us for any deviations away from what it considers “normal” behavior.
“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlour. If this aversion had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you dare pursue something bold and big, you’ll encounter signs that society is displeased. The signs of displeasure or outright sabotage might come from enemies, acquaintances, friends, family, and co-workers. There are more people than you might think who can’t stand idealism or doing good works in the world.
If your interest in improving yourself and your community goes past talk and into action, then you’ll really place a bullseye on your back.
Why? There are many answers, but Hugh Macleod has a simple and brilliant take on this phenomena.
This articulates why imagination and great ideas are scorned. This is what happens when (most) people encounter great ideas.
“Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted. Good ideas come with a heavy burden. Which is why so few people have them. So few people can handle it.” — Hugh Macleod
You’ll know you’re onto something big when others start protesting you, watching you, disparaging you, or speaking badly about you whenever you’re not around.
Because people who speak badly about others behind their backs are cowards, this is usually how it goes:
They will tolerate you for awhile. Then, at a certain point, conversation will grow uncomfortable until you leave. After you leave, the thought police will release their uneasiness and report you to each other. If you’re really onto something big, meaningful, or valuable, they will report you to those they feel can completely sabotage you or thwart your efforts.
If you think all this sounds paranoid or grandiose, I’m sorry, but it’s reality. Humans posses the capacity for great evils, as well as great good. As a veteran and someone who has traveled the world, lived in many places, and moved in and out of many groups, let me assure you — there are plenty of evil people in the world. There are plenty of people who will smile to your face, then begin tearing you down the moment you leave.
As Andy Grove said, “Only the paranoid survive.”
And as Drake said:
That’s when they smile in my face
Whole time they wanna take my place
Whole time they wanna take my place
Whole time they wanna take my place
Yeah, I know they wanna take my place
I can tell that love is fake
I don’t trust a word you say
How you wanna click up after your mistakes?
Look you in the face and it’s just not the same
But it’s not all paranoia and fake love.
Life is a glorious adventure, and at the same rate people will turn on you, there will be new allies and friends that emerge to help you on your quest. If you’re brave enough to push past the point when most people will turn against you, you will meet new allies and forge far greater friendships than you previously could have imagined.
This piece is a warning for those with the best intentions. It is a survival guide of sorts to help you on your hero or heroine’s journey to slay the dragon, and return to the community victorious.
We live in a dystopia and a society that often hates good ideas.
The only thing society hates more than good ideas are the people that bring them forth.
The good news is that the crowd is predictable. Yes, thought police might be watching you day and night… But there are seven tells from them (and a sick culture) that you can identify to confirm that you’re onto something big. They’ll help make you aware of risks, and they’ll help you spot the real life long friendships and allies whenever they emerge.
Whether you’re an executive, freelancer, CEO, entrepreneur, full-time parent, or artist, these seven signs are designed to help you stay safe, identify threats and opportunities, and emerge victorious in all your pursuits. Godspeed.
1. You won’t have the ideas, the ideas will have you
The right ideas will attach themselves to and around you, and they’ll be impossible to shake off.
“I did not have the certainty. The certainty had me.” –Carl Jung
You might not be able to see where the ideas are leading, but you’ll feel pulled. You’re like the captain of a fishing ship who knows something BIG is in the nets. Sometimes the catch seems so big that you’re afraid to look in the nets, or pull them up. You’ll try not to think about the catch as you go throughout your day, but you won’t be able to help it. When certainty or an idea has you, you’ll know you’re onto something big.
2. People will admire you, and they will show it through imitation
This is how a flawed society will treat you if you have original ideas. Others will imitate, or take what you’ve presented as their own. This is the only way that most people’s egos allow them to compliment other people. The good news is that, if you’re onto something big enough, no one will be able to bring it into the real world in the way you envision it.
Imitation is what people do who don’t have original ideas. It’s not always malicious and it’s not alway conscious. There is even a term for unconscious imitation, echopraxia. If you do notice that someone is echopraxic, take it as a warning sign and distance yourself.
These individuals will never consciously give you a compliment. Imitation is one of the only ways that people who are hurting know how to show respect. Make no mistake, intimidation and imitation might be flattering, but they aren’t always friendly. More often than not, they are the precursor, or signal, that isolation and scapegoating are right around the corner.
“Passive, submissive imitation does exist, but hatred of conformity and extreme individualism are no less imitative. Today, they constitute a negative conformism that is more formidable than the positive version. More and more, it seems to me, modern individualism assumes the form of a desperate denial of the fact that, through mimetic desire, each of us seeks to impose his will upon his fellow man, whom he professes to love but more often despises.” ―René Girard
3. Society will push you towards isolation and loneliness
“Sanity in this culture, requires a certain amount of alienation.” –Terence McKenna
If you don’t hate anyone, the first time you discover that other people hate you will be startling. Real hate is a foreign concept to healthy people. The first time you experience it firsthand will likely be when you’re on the trail of something big.
I can remember the first time I found out someone hated me. Specifically, they wanted to kill me. In this case, it was an interpreter on a deployment with the military. I thought we were friends who occasionally played ping pong together. He thought I was someone he would eventually kill. Luckily, we caught him plotting to kill us and stopped him.
This is obviously an extreme example, but when you discover that people hate you, one natural response afterwards is to isolate yourself. You must fight this, and instead re-engage with more energy than ever before. Find new friends. Find new associates.
Take some time to recover, but make sure to get back out in the arena quickly. Recognize that the desire to isolate yourself because others hate you is natural, and maybe justified. But it is not a long term strategy.
Isolation, ridicule, and intense loneliness in your journey are powerful signs. When you have to exit the crowd because people hate you, don’t worry. From the safety of being alone, you can meditate on why certain people hate you. It will lead you to the waters of sanity.
Again, Jung gives a powerful reminder about where these pursuits ultimately lead:
“It is … only in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures.” –C.G. Jung
You’re going to need the helpful powers of your own nature… especially if you’re going to avoid becoming a scapegoat.
4. You’ll notice people are trying to turn you into a scapegoat
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.” –Albert Einstein
All throughout human history, genius has occasionally emerged. When those damn thinkers arrive with good ideas and plans… the crowd tends to…
Scapegoating is the age old practice of punishing those who: do too well, make you think, or banding together as a crowd to hurt, steal from, or economically isolate them.
Scapegoating happens because people live in tightly controlled and monitored environments. It takes too much mental work to reform these environments, and any expression of displeasure could threaten an individual’s placement on an imagined hierarchy. Those who fall into the habit of conforming become unconscious thought police. When the thought police encounter someone who makes them think… they don’t get the joke.
The scapegoat is often an individual who commits the sin of making the wrong people have to think. When the thought police have to think, they immediately begin looking for scapegoat. When they find an individual who makes them have to think, they go to work placing all their unconscious frustrations onto the scapegoat (a living sacrifice).
Nowadays, there is part-time everything. People want endless optionality, without ever formally committing to a team, effort, or project. They want all of the upside, without ever personally investing in the projects. They might not literally hurt you, but there are plenty of people who will conspire to get you fired or cut off economically. They are into small time scapegoating. When they notice “thought crime” occurring, they will put all of their unconscious frustrations on the person who dares to make them think.
“Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.” –René Girard
5. People will start to become “concerned” and sabotage what you’re doing
“Resistance by definition is self-sabotage. But there’s a parallel peril that must also be guarded against: sabotage by others. When a writer begins to overcome her Resistance — in other words, when she actually starts to write — she may find that those close to her begin acting strange. They may become moody or sullen, they may get sick; they may accuse the awakening writer of “changing,” of “not being the person she was.” The closer these people are to the awakening writer, the more bizarrely they will act and the more emotion they will put behind their actions.
They are trying to sabotage her. The reason is that they are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, against their own Resistance. The awakening writer’s success becomes a reproach to them. If she can beat these demons, why can’t they? Often couples or close friends, even entire families, will enter into tacit compacts whereby each individual pledges (unconsciously) to remain mired in the same slough in which she and all her cronies have become so comfortable. The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.
The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others. Once you make your break, you can’t turn around for your buddy who catches his trouser leg on the barbed wire. The best thing you can do for that friend (and he’d tell you this himself, if he really is your friend) is to get over the wall and keep moving.
The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.”
The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle — Steven Pressfield
But why will there be a subtle pull and call for you to scale back?
If you start becoming interesting by pursuing a big idea, this will deeply irritate most people. Often, these are people who believe deeply in abstract notions of sameness- everyone and everything must be exactly the same. Only then can they remove all pressure off themselves to ever be interesting.
If you take delight in your work, or are onto something big… the thought police will find you, and they will try to get you to stop. Don’t stop. Double your intensity and push full steam ahead.
6. Procrastination will become impossible and work will become a delight
You’ll be caught in movement, and the fact that you used to procrastinate over anything will become absurd. The love of being in motion creating what you’re creating will eventually overpower everything else.
When you are truly onto something big, procrastination will disappear. All the procrastination you did prior to this big idea will feel as if it’s been a safeguard that has somehow protected you, or got you to save up your energies for what truly mattered.
The bigger and better the idea you’re pursuing, the less that time management and procrastination will be an issue. Work and solving problems will become a delight.
7. You won’t be able to find examples of when it’s been done before.
When you’re really onto something big, you might find that words escape you.
You can’t describe it. That could be trouble… or it could be a good sign.
“There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest.” –Ludwig Wittgenstein
Big ideas for the highest good are anomalies.
The more of an anomaly something is, the more anomalous of an individual is required to pull it off.
If you and your idea are singular, the less you’ll be able to describe it to those who worship sameness. When you find yourself not trying to convince anyone else because you’re so certain… you’re on the right track.
You’ll find that your journey is a singular mystery. You can’t explain it, and why would you want to? These are the primer materials for the creation of art.
“You are some kind of a mystery suspended between two eternities. And in that moment, when a mind looks out at a world and asks the question, ‘What is it?’ In that moment art can be created.” –Terence McKenna
Revel in the fact that you and the thing you’re creating don’t fall into a mold. Like Pinochio, you might have broken free from Pleasure island, your marionette strings, and become a real person.
This is a great sign. The more your path looks like another, the less likely it is that it’s your path:
“If you can see your path laid out before you, it is not your path.” –Joseph Campbell
The path won’t look like you think. Besides, if you knew exactly what was going to happen there couldn’t be any surprise or real excitement!
You might not be able to see that far ahead, but that’s a beautiful thing. Keep moving, and choose the most prudent paths as they arise.
If you notice any of these seven things happening, they are signs that you’re onto something.